Year In Review: The Beat’s top 10 art shows of 2017

‘Madre Luz’ placed in front of the Lee-Jackson Memorial / Photo by Tedd Henn

1. Removal of Confederate monuments and ‘Madre Luz’ at Wyman Park: At the end of a rally in solidarity with Charlottesville, Baltimore activists placed the ‘Madre Luz’ statue of a pregnant black woman with her fist up, created by artist Pablo Machioli, next to the Lee-Jackson Confederate monument by the Wyman Park Dell, where she remained for several days, despite being knocked over several times. After the city removed its Confederate monuments late one August night, Madre Luz was placed, if for only a little while, on top of the vacant marble platform by the Dell. Tear down all white supremacist monuments; this is the kind of socially engaged, public art we need to see in their place. (Rebekah Kirkman)

2. Njideka Akunyili Crosby, “Counterparts” at the Baltimore Museum of Art: Half of the work in the Nigerian-born, LA-based artist Njideka Akunyili Crosby’s show acts as a mirror to the other half: Three large, mixed-media paintings featuring domestic scenes and still life connect to the artist’s home in Nigeria through distinctive objects—such as portrait fabric featuring the artist’s politician mother, tea kettles, fashion magazines, remnants of English colonization—versus three distinctly American scenes and items connoting the artist’s life in America (a Colin Kaepernick bobblehead, Black Lives Matter protest photos, blatantly racist kitsch). Compartmentalizing these worlds in her skillful compositions, Akunyili Crosby opens them up and presents another way of understanding what it means to be a product of one’s environment. (Rebekah Kirkman)

3. Malcolm Peacock, “The Opening of the Museum of Trayvon Martin: A Meeting before Labor” at Terrault Contemporary: Empathy is a driving force in Malcolm Peacock’s art practice. For this event, the artist coaxed attendees into this mindset before we even showed up to the gallery: If you’re not a black person, you were instructed to ask a black person if you could accompany them to the event. The gallery’s stark scene, a bright white space meant to look like a 7-Eleven, as well as another component of the work which took place in an apartment about a mile north, were full of props, videos, stories, and anecdotes that tried to defy death, illuminating moments from Trayvon Martin’s actual life, and imagining his future—which George Zimmerman took away. (Rebekha Kirkman)

4. LabBodies’ “BBB Performance Art Review III: Freedom” at SpaceCamp: “Freedom” is an apt curatorial theme for a performance art showcase any time: Both freedom and performance art itself are ephemeral and, more often than not, they implicate the body. But for these artists—mostly women of color—the slipperiness of freedom nearly year into the Trump regime made for an especially potent point to pass through and break down. At performance art incubator LabBodies’ third annual “Borders, Boundaries, and Barricades (BBB)” exhibition (the first of which took place in 2015 in response to the uprising), we saw the effects and survival of oppression distilled into commanding images of endurance, repetition, and gesture. (Maura Callahan)

5. Mickalene Thomas, “Muse and tête-à-tête” at Maryland Institute College of Art: Throughout Western art history, women—moreover, women of color—have received the consolation prize of being “celebrated” (i.e. eroticized, exoticized) as the (white, male) artist’s muse, and less often championed as artists themselves. As the artist behind “Muse” and curator of the group photography exhibition “tête-à-tête,” Mickalene Thomas flipped that narrative on its head, framing black women as both the means and the ends of art with her own exquisite, Great-Master-riffing, blaxploitation-tinged portrait photography alongside a show of photographers who inspire her, like Carrie Mae Weems, LaToya Ruby Frazier, and Lorna Simpson. And it was cool to see a corner of Thomas’ photography studio, resplendent with the vintage textiles that fill much of Thomas’ painting and photo work, lifted up and dropped into MICA’s white wall gallery. (Maura Callahan)

6. Shannon Wallace, “Ain’t I A Woman” at Platform Gallery: Baltimore photographer/writer Wallace’s solo show gathered candid photos of African-American women young and old caught in the defiant act of being themselves: a young girl resting her head on her hand while writing, two gleefully casual young women chilling outside. Her imagery combines a photojournalist’s eye for compositional drama and a portraitist’s gift for recognizing the epic of the face. Where #BlackGirlMagic is the social media hashtag amplifying black women’s accomplishments, Wallace’s imagery is a reminder that everyday joy in 21st century America is a testament to black women’s power. (Bret McCabe)

7. Lu Zhang and William Lamson, “Retreat” at Area 405: When galleries and museums are rightfully saturated with art that addresses the injustices that make our shit times feel the way they do, an exhibition that poses itself as a kind of escape could come across as irresponsible. Instead, “Retreat” felt needed. Here we found respite in Baltimore-based Lu Zhang’s in-flux installation intuitively pieced together along a series of three-dimensional grids alongside New York-based William Lamson’s trance-inducing video filmed through a kaleidoscopic optical device made from one-way mirrors that floated along NYC’s waterways. The key here was that the artists didn’t try to get us out of our heads; they merely guided us away from the noise and into some clarity. (Maura Callahan)

8. Beki Basch, “Vision Quest Lundi: Flush/Flood” at Current Space: Basch’s “Vision Quest Lundi” series uses the monomyth to explore such slippery vectors of institutional power as history, religion, and education to make genuinely odd combos of performance and installation. “Flush/Flood” felt like an unnatural history museum gift shop, filled with a toy race-car track, burlap canvases with imagery from some nonspecific indigenous culture, drums, and a large black sculpture that was a little bit Formula One race car and a little bit sky burial platform with a thoughtful water fountain addition. There’s a hero’s journey inscrutably packed somewhere into all this, and the attempt to unpack it prompts you to question how you know what you think you know. (Bret McCabe)

9. “Out/Side & In/Between” at School 33 Art Center: This show, comprised of eight artists who are all first- or second-generation immigrants to the United States or Canada, explored language and storytelling, the implications of borders and boundaries, and being marginalized in your own home. Puerto Rican artist Eric Rivera Barbeito drove that last point home: The show went up right before Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico, and was on view amidst the U.S. government’s failure to sufficiently help its own territory. As I wrote for City Paper in a review: “The way the current administration stokes racism, fear, and hatred can make one wonder just what a ‘nationality’ is for, or what ‘citizen’ is supposed to mean”—“Out/Side & In/Between” provoked these questions and more. (Rebekah Kirkman)

10. Wickerham & Lomax, “DUOX4Odell’s You’ll Know If You Belong” at Light City Baltimore Neighborhood Lights: Station North: Baltimore’s most fearless ethnographers of underground culture dared to ask, What happens when a nightlife hotspot is erased but not the people who sustained it? Wickerham & Lomax filled the former Everyman Theatre black-box space with short films, digital and 3D installations, and the irreverent memories of queer dance-club euphoria from clubgoers of Odell’s, black Baltimore’s Studio 54 on North Avenue that lasted from 1976 to 1992. Less nostalgic time capsule than makerspace of a future that wasn’t allowed to be, “DUOX4Odell’s” showed that gentrification doesn’t merely displace people; it destroys the possibilities those communities had yet to imagine. (Bret McCabe)

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